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Reviewer: Max Griffin 🏳️🌈
As always, these are just one person's opinions. Always remember Only you know what is best for your story. I've read and commented on your work as I would try to read my own. I hope you find something here useful , and that you will discard the rest with good cheer.
What I liked best
The characterizations in this short story are awesome--especially Cheryl. It's a challenge to make a ten-year-old credible, but you've done a great job. The two adults are likewise deftly drawn. Good job!
I already said I loved the characters, but I think there are things missing from Cheryl's character. THey're there, but I think they need to be more explicit and front-loaded in the story.
Let me back up for a minute with some general comments. Kurt Vonnegut once said that every character needs to want want something, even if it's just a glass of water. In particular, Cheryl needs to have a goal.. I know--she does have a goal, redecorating her room, but it's not quite central to the story.
Your description of her room is excellent, and the room itself is a metaphor for what's happening in her life. It's an unfinished project she started with her mother. It's in tatters, with strips of wallpaper exposing gray walls. Her father doesn't notice the state of the room. This is all there, but if you could tweak it a bit, make it more central in the opening, and *connect* it to the underlying goal of dealing with her mother's death, it would be stronger.
Just for example, in the story Cheryl tears a strip of wallpaper and thinks her father wouldn't notice since he hasn't noticed the other torn strips. That's telling us he wouldn't notice. So...for sequencing, I'd start with Cheryl in her room. Describe the room with tatters of wallpaper hanging in in strips, with the dingy gray walls underneath. have Cheryl tear an entire strip off. THEN have her father actually enter the room and not see any of this. He should also be blind to the emotions Cheryl is feeling. Now you're SHOWING him not seeing the room and not seeing Cheryl. Her goal of finishing her room is now connected to an unstated goal of her relationship with her father. This would also connect redecorating the room with rebuilding (or building) her relationship with her father.
The fact that Cheryl is tearing the wallpaper shows that she's distraught. Once the goal is more than just redecorating her room and involves healing the relationship with her father, the goal suddenly matters: the stakes go up.
Finally, her father's own grief and his distant relationship with Cheryl are obstacles to achieving her goal. Cheryl can't heal unless her father heals, too. (I'd add early in the story that Cheryls father never cried--to signal that he's got all this grief still pent up inside).
The obstacle stands in the way of achieving the goal, which creates conflict. Together, the goals, stakes, and conflict give rise to tension, which is the engine that drives your story.
That's why I started with Cheryl's goals, stakes, and obstacles. As it stands, the story doesn't have a lot of tension. It's got a terrific ending that releases would release the tension, except the reader kind of has to look for the goals, stakes, and obstacles to see the tension. It's better if you hit the readers over the head with goals, stakes, and obstacles, creating tension.
You can increase tension by increasing obstacles, increasing the stakes, or expanding the goals. Since the room is a metaphor for the bigger goals, I think playing with obstacles and stakes is a better bet.
Openings are critical in any work of fiction. Some editors and agents will decide whether or not to read your submission based only on your first sentence.
Your opening is your best opportunity to draw readers into your fictional world, to induce a dream-like state in which your words guide their imaginations. The readers become the author's active partners in imagining the fictional world, in a state of suspended disbelief. In crafting the opening of any story, it's the author's primary task to launch this fictional dream.
First, it's generally not a good idea to start with a disembodied voice speaking. The reader won't know who is hearing the voice--i.e., the point of view. Generally, it's better to establish the point of view in the first sentence, usually by having the character interact in some way with their environment by sensing or acting.
For another thing, we don't know where the first exchange happens. If you follow my advice above, you'll start with Cheryl in her room doing something--maybe tearing a small strip of wallpaper, which gives you chance to describe the whole room. Now we're in a location that's central to the story. Maybe there's a picture of her mother in the room, which lets you also establish that's she's dead. Get the goals, stakes, and obstacles into those first two or three paragraphs. Of course, Cheryl's ten, so she won't think in terms of goals, stakes, and obstacles, but you're a clever writer who can certainly figure out how to show these things without using those words.
So, my advice on the opening is to establish the POV, answer the basic questions of who, what, when, where, why, how, as needed, and to expose the basic conflict of the story, i.e., establish the goals, stakes, and obstacles.
I don't think it will take a lot of revision to do this. The segment with Cheryl in her room is quite good and shows us a lot about her character. What's missing is that her father isn't in the room.
The plot is reconciliation, right? The passing of Cheryl's mother has left both father and daughter bereft and separated from each other. When the father says, "you must be sad, too" we see just how out of touch he's been, absorbed in his own grief. It's the start of healing their relationship. This is a great plot, and you've got the perfect ending already.
Style and Voice
Third person limited, in Cheryl's head. Perfect.
Usually I want more setting. Indeed, you will have noticed I whined about the absence of setting in the first couple of paragraphs of the story. Later, you've lots of detailed descriptions, as they enter the house, of the library, and especially of Mikayla's room. I'm thinking that you might consider revising these a bit. WHen Cheryl sees Mikayla's room, it's like she's waking up, seeing a vision of what her room (i.e., her life) could be like. So maybe the colors on the outside could be more drab and less brilliant, while the colors in the room are vibrant. Just a thought.
Adverbs. You don't overuse adverbs, but they show up enough to be worth a comment. You know what Stephen King says about . I think he is correct. Adverbs are often a shorthand in which the author falls into "telling" rather than "showing." I try to use zero adverbs, since otherwise I'd sprinkle them all over the place like fairy dust. I've marked one or more places in the line-by-line comments below where I think you might consider a more precise verb or a touch more description rather than an adverb.
Just my personal opinion
One way to think of telling a story is that it is a guided dream in which the author leads the readers through the events. In doing this, the author needs to engage the readers as active participants in the story, so that they become the author's partner in imagining the story. Elements of craft that engage the readers and immerse them in the story enhance this fictive dream. On the other hand, authors should avoid things that interrupt the dream and pull readers out of the story.
This is a really fine story. I think some minor tweaks along the lines I suggested above could make this a great story. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading it and thinking about it. Do keep on writing!!!!
Your text is in BLUE.
My comments are in GREEN.
If I suggest a re-wording, it's in GRAPE.
"I have math homework." The protest sounded feeble, even to her.My Comment: establishes POV. It’s better to do this in first sentence, as noted above.
and she was angry at her father for not answering. My Comment: tells us she’s angry as opposed to showing it.
Except for some music playing softly, My Comment: So, I’m adverb-averse. You’re right that “playing” isn’t very evocative, but the way to be more specific isn’t with an adverb, which slows the pace. Instead, chose a more precise verb, like murmuring or whispering.
I only review things I like, and I really liked this story. I'm a professor by day, and find awarding grades the least satisfying part of my job. Since I'm reviewing in part for my own edification, I decided long ago to give a rating of "4" to everything I review, thus avoiding the necessity of "grading" things on WDC. So please don't assign any weight to my "grade" -- but know that I selected this story for review because I liked it and thought I could learn from studying it.
Again, these are just one person's opinions. Only you know what is best for your story! The surest path to success is to keep writing and to be true to your muse!
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